23 October 2020

Sino-Indian Trade and Investment Relations Amid Growing Border Tensions

By: Anita Inder Singh


Following Chinese intrusions into India’s northern territory of Ladakh beginning in June (China Brief, July 15), relations between the two countries have seen a major downturn. Two strands of official Chinese thinking have emerged from statements by People’s Republic of China (PRC) officials, as represented by PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) and PRC Ambassador Sun Weidong (孙卫东) in New Delhi: that Beijing does not offer any prospect of an early settlement to the border dispute, and that it accuses India of infringing on China’s territorial sovereignty. Wang Yi maintains that the Sino-Indian boundary between China and India “has not yet been demarcated,” and that China will firmly safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity (Global Times, September 1). Sun Weidong asserts the official PRC line that there has been no Chinese transgression in Ladakh, and that the disputed territory belongs to China (PRC Embassy in India, August 28).

Despite earlier flare-ups such as the 2017 Doklam crisis, New Delhi in recent years has viewed India’s politico-economic connection with China through rose-colored glasses. At the Wuhan (2018) and Chennai (2019) summits Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw a Sino-Indian strategic convergence at hand (Indian Ministry of External Affairs, April 28, 2018; Xinhua, April 29, 2018). In Chennai he reportedly envisioned “a beautiful future” for India-China relations (Xinhua, October 13, 2019). For his part, President Xi Jinping has urged the elephant and the dragon to further align their development strategies and to build a partnership in manufacturing industries.

In response to the recent border incidents, the Indian government has looked to restrict Chinese investment in India, and there have been public calls for boycotts of Chinese-made goods. However, this has highlighted the disparity in economic power between the two countries, as well as the extent to which India is dependent on Chinese goods. Ambassador Sun, and commentaries in PRC state media, continually highlight India’s economic weakness, the ultranationalism that its widespread poverty allegedly inspires, and the difficulties it faces in overcoming its problems as one of the countries most affected by COVID-19. The Global Times editorialized this summer that the “gap between China’s and India’s strength is clear” (Global Times, June 17; Global Times, August 27).

Is the Quad Bound by Values or Interests?

By Grant Wyeth

In late September, Ashley Tellis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing in an Indian publication, The Print, made what should have been an uncontroversial argument. He asserted that if the Indian government continued to undermine the country’s liberal character that this would make it more difficult for other liberal democratic countries to partner with it. Yet there is another component to this equation. As the foreign ministers of Australia, United States, Japan, and India met in Tokyo in early October as the Quad, this group’s effective leader, the U.S., has also been exhibiting signs of liberal democratic decay. That’s something keenly felt in both Australia and Japan. 

At the meeting in Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a statement that the Quad was composed of “vibrant and pluralistic democracies with shared values.” This may have once been true, but today it is a statement with considerable caveats. Two members of the Quad are currently struggling to live up to their own ideals. Both these countries have powerful political parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Republican Party — that are arguably “anti-system parties”; that is, parties that are suspicious of their respective country’s constitutional and political frameworks.

Values are only values if they are actually defended and adhered to, rather than simply used as slogans. These two parties currently do not have a genuine commitment to the ideas that Pompeo claims are inherent to the Quad. At present the Republican Party believes that democracy cannot produce outcomes in its favor, so it is actively seeking to discredit the system and undermine its smooth operation. During the presidency of Donald Trump, the party has also demonstrated a distaste for key liberal principles like the rule of law and the freedom of the press.

The India-China Conflict in the Himalaya Should Break Open IR Theory

Alexander Davis

The Himalaya has rightly drawn global attention for the last few months, as India and China continue a troop build-up in Ladakh, particularly at Pangong Tso, Chushul and the Galwan Valley (Hutcheon et. al., 2020). In June of 2020, fighting between Chinese and Indian soldiers over disputed western Himalayan borders left 20 Indian soldiers dead, 20 seriously injured, and a still unconfirmed number of fatalities on the Chinese side (Dwivedi, 2020).[1] The tensions have been the worst the region has seen for several decades, with reports of ‘warning shots’ being fired in September 2020 (BBC, 2020). Negotiations between India and China have stalled. A likely result at this point appears to be the year-round militarisation of the India-China border in the Western Himalaya. This has already occurred on the nearby India-Pakistan border after the Kargil conflict of 1999 led to the perennial occupation of Siachen Glacier. The history of the militarisation of the Himalaya, and the strategy behind it, is relatively well understood, if not adequately critiqued, within IR scholarship.[2] The region, though, is far more than disputed lines on a map and the resultant military posturing. It is home to enormous cultural diversity, including hundreds of threatened languages. Its ice caps are the source of most of Asia’s large rivers, and play a key role in moderating the global climate. These cultures and environments are slowly being transformed by the geopolitical precarity.

Despite this, IR’s analysis of the region prioritises the interests of its states, rarely looking beyond the question of whether conflict or cooperation is likely (Davis et. al.,2020). As we ask this question, we often lose sight of the Himalaya’s environmental and cultural diversity, and a crucial international issue receives scant attention. Here, I argue that the statist framings offered by IR theory do allow us to interrogate the logic behind territorialising these borderlands or assist us in reckoning with the emergent environmental crisis. This is particularly disappointing because these changes are quite obviously international. Cultures, ecologies and geopolitics are all intimately connected in the Himalaya, in ways that our theories fail to explain or analyse, let alone critique. Indeed, I argue that the India, China and Pakistan tensions, and the mountains on which they take place, and the people who live next to them, are so poorly accounted for by mainstream IR theorising that it should call these frameworks into question in the first place.

Asking the Wrong Questions

The Real Danger in Trump Touting a Baseless Bin Laden Conspiracy Theory

Thomas Joscelyn

I had intended to write this week about North Korea’s provocative missile display, or China’s role in facilitating the opioid crisis inside the U.S., but both of those topics will have to wait. Earlier this week, a conspiracy theory went viral. It gained traction, in large part, because President Trump retweeted it.

While it is generous to call it a “theory,” it goes something like this: The CIA and the Obama administration conspired to cover up Osama bin Laden’s presence in Iran. The U.S. then paid Iran to release bin Laden to Pakistan, so that President Obama could manufacture the triumphal raid in Abbottabad in May 2011. In other words, bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad wasn’t discovered after years of sleuthing by the CIA. Instead, the whole bin Laden raid was a staged affair for political purposes. And here’s the kicker: Obama had members of Navy SEALs Team Six, which conducted the raid, assassinated to cover up the conspiracy.

This is, in a word, nonsense.

For starters, the Navy SEALs who conducted the raid dispute the claim that they are dead. One of them, Robert O’Neill, is a prominent Trump supporter and active on Twitter. O’Neill claims he personally shot and killed bin Laden. After Trump retweeted the conspiracy theory, O’Neill expressed his disapproval:

Beyond the lack of any actual evidence, there is another basic problem with this story: Its peddlers cannot even keep their central plot straight.

The Security Component of the BRI in Central Asia, Part Three: China’s (Para)Military Efforts to Promote Security in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan

By: Sergey Sukhankin

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of a three-part China Brief series about the Chinese government’s efforts to exert greater influence over regional security arrangements and policy in the states of Central Asia. The first part, “The Security Component of the BRI in Central Asia, Part One: Chinese and Regional Perspectives on Security in Central Asia,” appeared on July 15; the second part, “The Security Component of the BRI in Central Asia, Part Two: China’s (Para)Military Efforts to Promote Security in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan,” was published in our August 12 issue. In this third and final installment, Jamestown Fellow Sergey Sukhankin analyzes the ways in which China’s growing presence is affecting developments and security relationships in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.


Addressing the 56th Munich Security Conference in February, Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev emphasized Central Asia’s strategic importance for the realization of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the crown jewel foreign policy program of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (Belt and Road News, June 4). President Tokayev’s speech failed to mention that the opportunities for regional development along the BRI are balanced by security-related challenges. The first two articles of this series provided an overview of the general security environment in the region, followed by an analysis of the PRC`s security activities in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (China Brief, August 12). This third article will examine the PRC’s military and paramilitary security initiatives in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan—three of the larger and more economically developed countries in the macro-region of Central Asia.

Kazakhstan: The Central Pillar of the BRI?

According to PRC officials, Kazakhstan occupies a key position in the Central Asian segment of the BRI (PRC Foreign Ministry, September 7, 2013). Kazakh authorities share this perception, describing their country as “the first and key country of the Silk Road Economic Belt, a kind of geo-economic gateway of China to the West” (Belt and Road News, February 18, 2019). As evidence of the depth of the bilateral relationship, Beijing has pledged to invest more than $5 billion in local infrastructure through 2022, while Kazakhstan is the only country in Central Asia to have established an “all-around strategic partnership” with China (Belt and Road News, June 6). Kazakhstan is expected to play an instrumental role in BRI-related infrastructure projects, such as: the China-Kazakhstan-Russia-Western Europe Transport Corridor; the China-Kazakhstan-Western Asia Transport Corridor; and the China-Kazakhstan-South Caucasus/Turkey-Europe Transport Corridor (Astana Times, June 3). The Kazakhstan government is also expected to help China promote free trade zones along these routes (Belt and Road News, September 20, 2019).

Where to Next?: PLA Considerations for Overseas Base Site Selection

Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga


Since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) established its first official overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, there has been much speculation about where China’s next base will be. Chinese military authors have themselves shown considerable interest in this issue, discussing the value of potential overseas “strategic strong points” (战略支点, zhanlüe zhidian) for use by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces (China Brief, March 22, 2019). The Department of Defense’s 2020 annual report on the Chinese military indicates that “Beyond its current base in Djibouti, the PRC is very likely already considering and planning for additional overseas military logistics facilities to support naval, air, and ground forces”. The report lists a broad range of countries that China “has likely considered,” which include: “Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan” (Department of Defense, September 1, 2020).

Rumors in the Western media touch on an even greater variety of locations. Cambodia has received the most attention, with reports in July 2019 indicating that an agreement had been finalized for a Chinese PLA Navy (PLAN) base at the existing Ream port facility (China Brief, August 14, 2019). The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has also pointed to Pakistan as a leading contender for another location (Department of Defense, January 14, 2019). However, these conversations have overlooked one central question: how does the Chinese military itself think about selecting the locations for its overseas military bases?

Drivers of PLA Basing Abroad

Below Threshold Options for China against the U.S.

By Eli Kravinsky

Eli Kravinsky is an undergraduate student at Haverford College. He previously spent a year in China on a State Department-funded language scholarship. He can be found on Twitter @elikravi. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation: The U.S. is continuing to orient its foreign policy and defense policy towards the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Accordingly, PRC tactics that have proven successful against the U.S. thus far may begin to fail. This failure will cause the PRC to develop new tactics to use against the U.S. below the threshold of armed conflict.

Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is an American undergraduate student interested in China and security studies. The article is written from the perspective of the PRC and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) towards the U.S.

Background: Strategic competition between the U.S. and China has increased in recent years. China’s strategy is to carefully escalate tensions so as to enable it to create “facts on the ground”, such as de-facto Chinese control over much of the South China Sea, without allowing tensions to boil over into full-scale war, which could result in China’s gains being rolled back[1].

Significance: The U.S. has started taking much stronger notice of China’s below-threshold tactics and is responding increasingly harshly. As such, China must innovate new, carefully calibrated below-threshold tactics.

‘Preparing for War’: What Is China’s Xi Jinping Trying to Tell Us?

By James Holmes

Xi recently exhorted Chinese marines to devote their “minds and energy” to “preparing for war.” Much of the message was meant for the U.S. and Taiwan.

Xi Jinping paid a visit to a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Marine Corps base in Guangdong Province this past Tuesday. During his tour the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) supremo exhorted marines to devote their “minds and energy” to “preparing for war,” to “maintain a state of high alert,” and to remain “absolutely loyal, absolutely pure, and absolutely reliable.”

Xi’s words set China-watchers in the West aflutter, but what do they mean?

Less and more than it might seem. As a rule, national leaders aim their remarks at more than one audience, and Xi is no exception to the rule. Let’s start with what he communicated to the immediate audience, the Chinese marines on hand for inspection, then speculate about the messages he broadcast—deliberately or inadvertently—to hearers elsewhere in China and the world.In one sense Xi’s words were anodyne, even trite. Military forces exist to provide political leaders with options. To give political leaders options should they resort to war, armed services have to prepare for war in peacetime. That’s doubly true of industrial-age militaries. You don’t improvise a high-tech force at the outbreak of fighting. You develop and build implements of war, devise tactics and doctrine for using them, and train—over and over again.

In warfare as on the gridiron or basketball court, practice before a contest makes perfect. More reps make better habits and a more proficient team. Nineteenth-century psychologist William James paid homage to the part habits play in the profession of arms. James conjured up the Duke of Wellington, the victor of Waterloo, as an authority on the subject: “‘Habit a second nature! Habit is ten times nature,’ the Duke of Wellington is said to have exclaimed . . . . The daily drill and the years of discipline” transmute ordinary people into fighting soldiers, sailors, or aviators.

Chinese military beefs up coastal forces as it prepares for possible invasion of Taiwan

Minnie Chan

The People’s Liberation Army has been upgrading its missile bases, and one Beijing-based military source said it has deployed its most advanced hypersonic missile the DF-17 to the area.

“The DF-17 hypersonic missile will gradually replace the old DF-11s and DF-15s that were deployed in the southeast region for decades,” the source, who requested anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the topic. “The new missile has a longer range and is able to hit targets more accurately.”

Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province which it has vowed to take back, by force if necessary. Relations between Beijing and Taipei have deteriorated since Tsai Ing-wen from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was elected as president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

The deployment of missiles on the coasts of Fujian and Zhejiang provinces previously peaked during the presidency of Tsai’s DPP predecessor Chen Shui-ban.

Japan will not join U.S. plan to bar China from telecoms networks: Yomiuri

TOKYO: Japan has told the United States that Tokyo will not, at the moment, join Washington's plan to exclude Chinese firms from telecommunications networks, the Yomiuri newspaper said on Friday, citing several sources.

Japan will take its own steps to respond in case there are worries over security issue, while Tokyo will cooperate with the United States, the paper said.

The U.S. State Department published in August an update of a plan called the "Clean Network" calling for telecom companies, cloud service providers, and mobile apps of Chinese origin to be kept out of the United States.

The United States is pressing allies to bar Huawei from next generation 5G mobile phone networks on security grounds.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the "Clean Network" plan when he met Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo earlier this month, the Yomiuri said.

Japan told the United States that Tokyo cannot join a framework which excludes a specific nation but will reconsider if there is any change to the current U.S. plan, according to the report.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the top government spokesman, responded to the Yomiuri report by saying his understanding was there was no exchange of views on the "Clean Network" plan during the meeting between Pompeo and Motegi but the U.S. explained its overall cybersecurity efforts.

"Our nation wants to continue to strengthen cooperation in the area of cybersecurity with the U.S." Kato said during a news conference on Friday.

Japan will also take steps to secure cybersecurity safety by taking steps to reduce supply chain risks when procuring information and communication equipment, he said.

Demystifying China’s Role in Italy’s Port of Trieste

By Francesca Ghiretti

At the end of September 2020, Germany’s Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) concluded an agreement with the Port of Trieste, in northern Italy, to invest in the development of the port’s logistic platform. The investment includes the acquisition by HHLA of 50.1 percent of the shares of the platform, with the rest belonging to Francesco Parisi S.p.A. (about 23 percent) and ICOP (22 percent), while the remaining shares will be held by Interporto di Bologna. In Europe, and in Washington too, the move has been welcomed as it dispels the ghosts of Chinese investments and the risks these might have implied.

In March 2019, the Port of Trieste was among the signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Italy and the People’s Republic of China in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The agreement signed by the Port of Trieste with China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) amounted to little more than a declaration of intent and goodwill for the development of future relationships between the entities. Nonetheless, the MoU of March 2019 opened the way for a more specific, and to a certain degree pragmatic, bilateral MoU between the Port of Trieste and CCCC, which was signed in Shanghai in November 2019. This latter MoU envisioned three areas of collaboration between the authority of the Port of Trieste and CCCC: one in Italy, one in China, and in one in third countries.

Despite the signing of the second MoU and the enthusiastic tones of the parties involved – which at times have caused misunderstandings in the public in regard to the size and scope of the agreement – the content had very limited and precise objectives, none of which envisioned the management, let alone the ownership, of the Port of Trieste by CCCC. Yet, both after the MoU in March 2019 and the one that followed in November, fear ran high that something similar to what happened to the port of Piraeus in Greece could repeat itself in the Italian port, leading to the expansion of China’s influence in the area. Such concerns were the result of two elements: miscommunication on the Italian side on the actual content of the agreement – content often inflated by some news outlets – and the climate of tensions that through the years has developed around Chinese investments in infrastructure projects.

In order to obtain some clarity and bring the debate back to facts, we must understand what was actually in the agreement between the Port of Trieste and CCCC.

As China-Iran talks continue, Beijing keeps up outreach to Gulf

Sabena Siddiqui
Source Link

 While Iran and China are still working to finalize a 25-year strategic partnership plan, Chinese officials continue to expand bilateral ties with the Gulf, something that could have unexpected implications for Iran-GCC ties.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived last week with a major delegation in Tengchong, in southwest China’s Yunnan province, on the invitation of his counterpart Wang Yi. These talks, which were apparently putting finishing touches on the 25-year Sino-Iranian Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, were significant for both the countries.

These talks, which took place on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between both countries, were an ideal opportunity to finally announce their long-term partnership. There were great expectations attached to this visit.

However, just as Zarif reached China on Oct. 10, senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi arrived in Abu Dhabi to meet UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Yang, a former foreign minister and a former ambassador to the United States, is a member of the politburo of the Communist Party's Central Committee and the director of the committee's Foreign Affairs Commission.

Turkey Punching Above Its Weight On World Stage – OpEd

By Andrew Leonard*

Current Turkish foreign policy may be best illustrated by former US President Theodore Roosevelt’s big stick diplomacy proverb, only in reverse. That is, walk loudly and carry a small stick. Under the ultra-nationalist leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s geopolitical ambitions have become increasingly confrontational, reckless, and overambitious. Its insistence on challenging territorial boundaries, disavowal of international norms and laws, unchecked unilateralism, and courtship of unsavory non-state actors have earned it the alienation of its neighbors, unprecedented diplomatic isolation, and the rebuke of erstwhile allies. These ill-advised initiatives have left it with fewer strategic partners and a growing number of geopolitical adversaries. 

A recent flare-up in hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has drawn in Turkey, who has thrown its political and diplomatic weight behind Baku, a fellow Turkic-dominated state who benefits from Turkish-made drones in the ongoing conflict. Ankara has also shipped Syrian mercenaries to the Azerbaijani side to tip the scales against archenemy Armenia, although it denies doing so. This escalation has likely irked Russia, who is not only the traditional regional power broker, but also maintains a security pact with Armenia. On October 10th, Russia brokered a tenuous ceasefire that lasted less than 24 hours. Shortly thereafter Turkey issued a statement calling on Armenia to completely withdraw from the Nagorno-Karabakh region as a precondition for peace talks.

ISIS Terrorists Are Taking Advantage Of Coronavirus Lockdowns

by Farooq Yousaf

COVID-19 lockdowns throughout the world have aggravated socio-political inequalities, especially in the Global South as governments try to respond to the pandemic. Various terrorist, radical and violent extremist groups, especially the so-called Islamic State, are trying to cash in on these inequalities to propagate hate-filled narratives.

In Nigeria, for instance, Boko Haram has called the closure of mosques — a precaution taken in response to COVID-19 — a direct ‘attack on Islam’. Similarly, there remains fear among security experts that as the lockdowns continue to confine people to their homes, radical and violent extremist groups are gaining an opportunity to radicalise ‘younger’ audiences who are spending more unsupervised time on the Internet.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) Deputy Director-General Heather Cook, speaking at the Australian Parliament’s Joint Intelligence and Security Committee, also warned that the conditions arising out of the pandemic have provided extremist groups, including neo-Nazi organisations, the means to radicalise more people.

In a recent meeting of the UN Security Council on pressing global security issues in August, counter-terrorism experts noted a spike in the so-called Islamic State’s (IS) online activities. Experts also reiterated the importance of repatriating terrorist families stranded in the Middle East to prevent IS from spreading its influence. These concerns indicate that the threat from violent extremist and terrorist groups such as IS remains within both ‘virtual’ (online) and ‘physical’ (family) networks.

UN arms embargo on Iran expires as world ignores U.S. "snapback" claim

Zachary Basu

A 13-year United Nations ban on Iran's ability to buy and sell conventional arms expired on Sunday over the objections of the U.S, which insisted that all UN sanctions on Iran had been reimposed under the "snapback" process of the 2015 nuclear agreement — even though President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

Why it matters: The expiration of the arms embargo will allow Iran to buy advanced weapons systems from countries like Russia and China, upgrading military equipment that dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to AP.

The big picture: The U.S. tried and failed in August to indefinitely extend the arms embargo, but the UN — including European allies Germany, France and the United Kingdom — dismissed the effort as having no legal basis.

In response, Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions on any person or entity that contributes to the transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran or is engaged in providing training and financial support related to those weapons.

The Trump administration hopes that the wide-ranging sanctions will discourage governments and private companies from buying or selling arms to Iran in fear they will be sanctioned by the U.S. government.

At Front Lines of a Brutal War: Death and Despair in Nagorno-Karabakh

By Anton Troianovski

STEPANAKERT, Nagorno-Karabakh — On the front line, the stench is overwhelming. The remains of fighters have been lying there for weeks.

In the trenches, there is fear. The Armenians are defenseless against the Azerbaijani drones that hover overhead and kill at will.

At the military graveyard, bulldozers have scraped away a hillside. It is already lined with two rows of new graves, along with soon-to-be-filled, freshly dug, rectangular holes.

The three-week-old conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over a disputed territory in the Caucasus Mountains, where Europe meets Asia, has settled into a brutal war of attrition, soldiers and civilians said in interviews here on the ground in recent days.

Azerbaijan is sacrificing columns of fighters, Armenians say, to eke out small territorial gains in the treacherous terrain of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave that is part of Azerbaijan under international law.

Civilians who have stayed behind live in their damp and unheated basements, converted in recent weeks with makeshift kitchens, and where some sleep on flattened cardboard boxes. The shelling and missile barrages into the towns in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan have killed dozens of civilians and hundreds of soldiers and have filled the nights with terrifying flashes and booms.

How the Iran-Iraq war will shape the region for decades to come

Ranj Alaaldin

Forty years ago, a major war between Iran and Iraq set the stage for far-reaching and lasting regional dynamics. The conflict — which began in September 1980 when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, and ended in a stalemate in 1988 — was the nascent Islamic Republic’s first major military test. It was an existential battle for the Iranian leadership, coming just one year after the 1979 revolution in Iran. The war claimed at least one million lives.

The legacies of the war are numerous. In the decades since, Iran has developed a marked capacity to mobilize Shiite communities across the region, penetrating previously impervious political and ideological spaces, particularly in Iraq but also in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Moreover, it was in Iraq, during the formative stages of the war, that the Islamic Republic first started to implement a proxy network, one that has expanded region-wide (particularly in Syria and Yemen) in recent years. Finally, in shaping the political and foreign policy outlook of today’s leadership in Iran and in Gulf Arab states, the war additionally sowed the seeds for current geopolitical rivalries that have hampered efforts to secure durable regional peace.


A key dynamic during the war — and one that would continue in the decades afterward — was Iran’s mobilization of Iraqi Shiite opposition groups. Tehran extended its support to other opposition groups, like the Kurds, but it was particularly focused on spurring a Shiite insurgency campaign within Iraq, encouraging mass defections from the Iraqi military, and trying to trigger an uprising among the majority-Shiite population. That was to no avail. Revolutionary fervor in Iran was instrumental to Tehran’s ability to push back against an enemy that had superior technological capabilities and a plethora of backers, including the U.S., its allies in the West, and the Gulf Arab states — but it could not inspire a similar response in Iraq.

Should the U.S. Government Own America’s 5G Network?

By Christopher Burnham

The Department of Defense (DoD) recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) exploring the creation of a government-owned and operated 5G network, tapping its mid-band spectrum currently used for naval operations. While there is a new national imperative for this prime 5G spectrum—to provide 5G networking and communications to the entire country—there is nothing good (and much bad) that would come from the government owning America’s 5G network.

The U.S. government has been auctioning off spectrum since 1994 to the private sector. From this, our nation has built the most enviable communication and data system in the world, offering cell service, streaming, and virtually free long-distance calling, including overseas. Why mess with success?

Rather than the government taking over 5G as a monopoly, the spectrum band should be auctioned off to private enterprise, to companies or consortiums that are already building a nationwide 5G network on the foundation of the finest 4G and 3G networks in the world. Competition between private sector providers has been the very essence of our democracy and capitalistic system for more than 200 years. 

As the chairman of the U.S. House of Representative Committee on Energy and Commerce, Frank Pallone, and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman, Mike Doyle, recently articulated in a joint statement, “The Department of Defense’s RFI on the creation of a government-owned and operated 5G network will do nothing but slow the deployment of this critical technology.”

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Dominance in the Name of Internationalism

by Andrew Bacevich 

I was never in the military myself, but I did spend time at a U.S. military base and I have to admit that it remains a treasured experience among my memories. Sometime in the 1950s, my father ran a gas station on Governors Island in New York Harbor. Now largely a public park, it was then an Army base with two forts on it, both built by the early nineteenth century. To tell you the truth, though, what I remember was a really large swimming pool and a movie theater where, for maybe a dime, I could see Buck Rogers serials and cowboy or war films to my heart’s content. Troops drilled on the island. Jeeps drove by. There was even a golf course (known as the “world’s crookedest”). Growing up on Manhattan Island, my Saturday ferry trips there with my dad were my thrilling introduction to the suburbs, military-style.

Here’s the thing, though. I never could have imagined then that such American bases -- approximately 800 significant ones (and many smaller outposts of various sorts) -- would by the twenty-first century be scattered in at least 80 countries and on every continent but Antarctica. As scholar Chalmers Johnson dubbed it back in 2004, this is America’s “empire of bases,” its “Baseworld.” Though not all of those bases have the amenities of Governors Island in the early 1950s and some, from Afghanistan to Kenya, are now embattled parts of America’s forever wars, here’s the strange thing: except at places like TomDispatch, they are normally neither acknowledged nor discussed here in any significant way. Over the years, millions of American troops and contractors have passed through them. Wars have been launched from them. And yet they are not debated in Congress or investigated by the media. They are simply a given, the no-need-to-notice bedrock of a highly militarized imperial power now visibly in trouble in a pandemicized world that, in my childhood, no one could have imagined.

Toward a New “Lost Decade”? Covid-19 and Defense Spending in Europe

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, European defense has entered uncharted waters. While the economic implications of the ongoing health crisis are difficult to assess, one thing is certain: the public finances of European states will not come out unscathed. In this context, the recent growth in military expenditure in Europe is at risk despite the deterioration of the strategic environment. However, lessons learned from the 2008 financial crisis should help Europeans take the necessary steps to avoid the worst-case scenario of a sharp decrease in defense spending.

Europe has been severely affected by Covid-19, which is still far from being under control. Beyond the immediate implications of this unprecedented crisis, many experts have warned about the medium-term risks for defense budgets in Europe. As public debt explodes and threat perceptions change, European military expenditure could face a new major blow 10 years after the global financial crisis. Identifying ways to prevent this scenario requires drawing on the experience of the last decade but also analyzing more precisely the diverse national situations across Europe.1
The “Lost Decade” of 2008–18

The 2008 financial turmoil took a dramatic toll on European economy. Statistics speak for themselves: in 2009 alone, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the European Union declined by more than 4 percent, followed by years of slow growth. Public debt skyrocketed from 58 percent of GDP in 2007 to 87 percent in 2014 and, as of 2019, remains high at 79.4 percent. Driven by the need to reduce large budget deficits, defense spending also plummeted in Europe between 2009 and 2013 (see Figure 1). According to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), defense expenditure in Europe fell by 3 percent in 2009 and continued to decline steadily throughout the 2010–13 period. This trend was even more pronounced in smaller European states such as Lithuania, which cut defense spending by over 36 percent in 2010.

How MONUSCO Contributed to Constructing the DRC as the ‘Dark Heart’ of Africa

Sofia Romansky

This content was originally written for an undergraduate or Master's program. It is published as part of our mission to showcase peer-leading papers written by students during their studies. This work can be used for background reading and research, but should not be cited as an expert source or used in place of scholarly articles/books.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Africa’s geographical and metaphorical ‘heart’, has become infamous for its violent resource-driven and ethnic conflicts (Kabamba, 2010). Simultaneously, the DRC gained attention through the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (UN, MONUSCO): the UN’s largest peacekeeping operation, which despite over 20 years of involvement has not achieved sustainable peace (Lopor, 2016). This has led to extensive criticism of MONUSCO’s on-the-ground practices, however, the very way the UN speaks about the DRC may also have unintended consequences for its effectiveness (Martinez & Eng, 2016). By problematizing the discourses of MONUSCO resolutions and practices this essay aims to answer the question “How has the construction of the Democratic Republic of Congo as the ‘Heart’ of the ‘Dark Continent’ shaped MONUSCO peacekeeping?” After giving background information on the DRC and establishing a constructivist postcolonial theoretical framework, this essay will argue that based on historical perceptions of Africa as the ‘Dark Continent’, MONUSCO adhered to constructions of the DRC as trapped in ‘immutable’ cycles of violence which limited the focus on root causes of conflict and inhibited the visibility of complex local actors. This analysis makes a relevant contribution to debates on the perverse consequences of well-meaning international interventions (Autesserre, 2012) as in 2019 the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended MONUSCO’s mandate for 2020, creating opportunity for change. 


The various conflicts in the DRC can be attributed to pre-colonial tensions and Belgian control from 1885-1960 (Kabamba, 2010). However, most recent instability stems from the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and resulting influx of Hutu refugees in the DRC’s eastern provinces (Ndangam, 2002, p. 5). Since independence, the DRC struggled to maintain economic growth while battling secessionist and ethnic disputes (p. 4). As volatility rose in refugee camps in 1996, the DRC army (FARDC) became thinly spread, accommodating the emergence of armed groups to fill the security deficit. Most notably, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) led by Laurent Kabila took advantage of then President Mobutu’s absence, due to a cancer treatment in Switzerland, to start a Tutsi campaign against Hutu extremists. Soon other states, namely Rwandan, Burundi, Ugandan, Angolan, and Eritrean national forces joined, initiating the First Congo War (1996-1997) which culminated in a military coup and collapse of Mobutu’s DRC (p.6). Yet, the war’s diverse civil and transnational armed groups triggered new conflicts, sparking the Second Congo War (1998-2003), which claimed the largest civilian death-toll since WWII. To moderate fighting, the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement was signed between the warring states, prompting the UN Secretary General to recommend that a peacekeeping mission be deployed (Barrera, 2015, p. 3). This established MONUSCO’s presence in the DRC, mandated by UNSC Resolution 1258 (1999). After less than a year, the need for more on-the-ground personnel became apparent, thus with every new UNSC resolution the mission grew larger and acquired more tasks: “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, protection of civilians, strengthening of State Authority and organization of the first democratic elections” (p. 5). Since the war’s end, MONUSCO had successes, including the suppression of the insurgent National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) in 2012 (Luthuli, 2016, p. 36), formation of a Transitional Government, and elections in 2006. Yet, MONUSCO is widely criticized for failing at its core mandates (Karlsrud, 2015), though specific criticism of the UN’s discourse remains widely absent. This essay argues that language shaped MONUSCO by creating limited knowledge structures which affected its efficacy. 

Theoretical Framework: Constructivism and Postcolonialism 

Why Congress should invest in open-source software

Frank Nagle

The COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant economic crisis requires a similarly significant response, but it also asks of lawmakers to consider what is next. We can’t just invest in highways—we also need to invest in the technology underpinning the information superhighway. To rebuild from one of the greatest challenges of our time, the United States must invest both in physical and digital infrastructure to secure its recovery.

For the last few years, both Democrats and Republicans have called for major infrastructure investments, only for them not to materialize. These efforts to fund infrastructure investment have focused on the physical world—highways, railroads, bridges. While those are important areas for investment, we must not forget the equal importance of digital infrastructure, especially the free and open-source software (FOSS) that is built mostly by volunteer labor and underpins the digital world. FOSS is even working its way into the physical world, as it is built into our phones, cars, and refrigerators.

FOSS began in the 1980s as an effort to give developers the ability to tinker with and alter software, which was prevented by most software vendors at the time. This led to the “free” in FOSS being defined as “Free as in Free Speech, not as in Free Beer,” although frequently the software was also free of costs. For years, FOSS was primarily the domain of hobbyists, but as computing and the internet became a larger part of daily life, so too did FOSS. The untiring efforts of countless volunteers collaborating remotely eventually led to a robust FOSS ecosystem. Now, FOSS underpins the entire digital economy in the form of operating systems (Linux, Android, etc.), databases (MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, etc.), and big data and artificial intelligence software (Hadoop, TensorFlow, etc.). Multi-billion dollar companies are regularly built on the back of FOSS. Even Microsoft, whose leadership once called Linux “a cancer” and equated it to communism, has now embraced FOSS and uses it as the core of its Azure cloud computing offering.

Competition Among Ports in the Caspian Sea and the Significance of the Port of Baku

By: Orkhan Baghirov

On July 29, the Russian government issued an order concerning plans for the development of federal transport, railway, information and communications infrastructure that includes the construction of Port Lagan, in the Republic of Kalmykia (Portnews.ru, August 3). The idea to establish a port in Kalmykia has been discussed since 2007, and a letter of intent on the construction of a new seaport in Lagan was approved in July 2019. The total projected transshipment capacity of the port will reach 12.5 million tons, which is 5 million tons more than the total capacity of the three other Russian ports on the Caspian Sea—Astrakhan, Makhachkala and Olya (Global Construction Review, August 3). By utilizing the new port, Russia will be able to increase its trade with Iran, India and China through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Therefore, some Iranian and Chinese companies are also interested in investing in the project.

Currently, Russia’s main port in the Caspian Sea, Astrakhan Port, does not meet all international standards as it cannot handle large ships and is subject to continual silting of the mouth of the Volga River (Russia-briefing.com, August 6). Also, in recent years, the total traffic level of the Russian ports in the Caspian Sea has been dwindling (see EDM, May 23, 2017), thus encouraging Russia to work on new port projects in order to maintain its competitiveness in the region. The other problem for Russia’s Caspian ports is that they freeze in winter. By becoming Russia’s only ice-free port in the Caspian Sea, the Port of Lagan, if built, would eliminate this obstacle and handle cargos all year round.(Source: Brill)

Russia is not the only country working on new port projects in the Caspian. In 2017, Iran launched development projects in Amirabad Port, situated on the southern coast of this inland body of water (Financial Tribune, April 12, 2017). The Iranian efforts aim to increase the port’s capacity and connect it to the broader domestic rail network. Turkmenistan, in turn, opened the new Turkmenbashi Sea Port in 2018 and invested about $1.5 billion for its construction (Caspian News, May 5, 2018). Another Caspian littoral country in Central Asia, Kazakhstan, inaugurated the port of Kuryk, on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, that same year, which will increase transit revenues up to $5 billion a year (Astana Times, August 14, 2018).

The Lawless Realm Countering the Real Cyberthreat

By Marietje Schaake

This past summer, a host of public organizations as varied as the Norwegian parliament, the New Zealand stock exchange, and the Vatican all came under attack. No shots were fired, no doors knocked down, no bombs exploded. Instead, the attackers managed to intrude into these institutions’ internal networks in attempts to commit espionage, disrupt daily affairs, or ransom or blackmail victims. Incidents of this kind are just the tip of the iceberg. Cyberattacks are constantly taking place, and many intrusions go unnoticed and unreported. In democratic countries, only intelligence agencies and private companies can reach a detailed understanding of cyberattacks and the risks they pose. Everyone else must scramble for information about what actually happens below the surface of the digital world. 

For years, policymakers who pay attention to new threats have pointed to the possibility of a “cyber–Pearl Harbor,” a devastating attack on a country’s critical digital infrastructure. But the more immediate risk comes from attacks below that threshold, intrusions that can still cause grave damage. In 2017, hackers exploited a vulnerability in the Microsoft Windows operating system to infect over 300,000 computer systems in 150 countries with a malicious virus. The virus, called WannaCry, affected individuals, companies, and state agencies, including the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, where it led to the cancellation of over 19,000 appointments and the loss of around $100 million in damages. Experts estimated that all told, the cost of the global disruption caused by WannaCry reached some $4 billion. American and British investigators eventually traced the source of the malware to operatives in North Korea. 

WannaCry was a rare and well-publicized episode of a more widespread, subtle, and poorly understood problem: the ease with which malign actors with geopolitical or criminal goals can take advantage of vulnerabilities across the digital world. Most attacks and intrusions remain invisible and consist of a series of steady punches rather than one major blow. Instead of fixating on highly visible and dramatic events, policymakers should focus on reviving the role of democratic institutions in ensuring the safety of the public in cyberspace. 

To do that, governments must recognize that the private sector wields outsize power in the digital world. Democratic states have ceded too much ground to corporations. Public authorities are largely at the mercy of private companies; they cannot look under the hoods of the companies that, for instance, supply software to hospitals, electricity networks, or smart devices. Legislatures and city councils are not privy to the security stress tests such systems undergo. This imbalance has given private companies a dominant position that governments could only dream of: government agencies responsible for national security are now often in the awkward position of relying on commercial data to fulfill their own mandates. Governments face a steep learning curve in understanding conflict and risk in the digital domain, but it’s well past time that they take a more concerted approach to taming this lawless realm.

AUSA NEWS: Army to Use AI to Defeat Small Drones

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The Army’s office for countering small drones sees artificial intelligence and machine learning as key technologies for defeating enemy systems, service officials said Oct. 15.

AI is “critical to what we're doing in the counter-UAS world,” said Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, director of the Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircraft System Office and director of fires, G-3/5/7. 

Artificial intelligence will reduce the burden on human operators and improve their decision-making, said Col. Marc Pelini, division chief for capabilities and requirements.

The military wants AI-enabled systems that can speed up reaction timelines for thwarting drone attacks, which are seen as a growing threat, he said during a media roundtable at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference, which was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The technology has the potential to reduce false alarms by weeding out non-threats, and identify small unmanned aerial vehicles that might otherwise go undetected, he noted. It can also reduce the complexity of systems, making them more user friendly, Pelini said. The services want a "military specialty-agnostic capability" that a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine can intuitively operate.

The secretary of the Army is designated as the Defense Department’s executive agent for counter-small unmanned aerial systems, which includes platforms in UAS Groups 1 through 3. Systems in those groups — which are smaller and have less endurance than larger drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper — include platforms such as the DJI Phantom 3, the DJI S1000 and the Forpost system.

The Army office for countering small drones will be putting out a new strategy, Gainey said. Operational requirements have already been approved by the Joint Staff. The strategy is currently in draft form but should be delivered to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper “relatively soon,” he added.

The organization, alongside the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, is also getting ready to host a virtual industry event Oct. 30 to discuss the technology with companies, Gainey said.